Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Does a Banner "Speak"?

How has a week gone by since I last shared anything here?

I was not quite sure until I went to pull up the pictures on our camera of what I sat down to write about today:

Nina's First Holy Communion banner

It was then that I recognized what a full week we have had, which culminated in a most precious narration by Nina, which you'll find at the very end of this post.
In our second to last week of Lent, there was lots of catch-up to do after having recovered from a belly bug that had hit our family. There was also the usual array of
chores, lessons and to do's.  Plus, there have been some special activities, such as:

 ...stopping by our church to visit Jesus and pray on the Annunciation...

...building forts with friends in the snow. (Yes, snow!  Spring in our area seems not to want to be outdone by the record-breaking winter we faced.  So, since "Spring" officially began we have had snow more than once!) ...

...Thinking about warmer climates, though, we found ourselves immersed in African explorations as we planned and hosted our once-a-month Geography Club where fun like this unfolded...

... After mapping, expert reports and some on-your-feet cultural games, the kids made mock African necklaces and played traditional African skill and strategy games...

... Geography, though, was not the only club-induced focus in our week.  In fact, we found ourselves switching gears from geography to math as we measured and cut enough PVC pipe and insulation pieces for 18 people to makes daggers and clubs at our once-a-month Duct Tape Battle Club.

... Late in the week, Luke led his third Duct Tape Battle Club meeting at a friend's home, starting the meeting off with prayer.   

What is Duct Tape Battle Club? 

It is an initiative Luke asked to create just after Christmas that I said, "Why not?"  about and so glad I did.  Getting together with friends to build duct tape weapons has been such a blessing to us.   Not only are the meetings themselves so much fun, but t
he way Luke planned for the first eight club meetings, has stayed focused preparing for them, and has demonstrated budding leadership skills while running the initial three meetings truly makes me smile with pride and thanksgiving.

So, indeed, it has been a full and fruitful week!  

A week that found us winding down on Saturday night, gathered around our kitchen table, immersed in the very activity I initially sat down to write about today:  banner making!

While the boys made banners for their Duct Tape Battle Club, Nina put together the banner she has due today at her final  First Holy Communion preparation class.  

When I told Nina that she may be asked to present why she chose the symbols for her banner that she did, she blew me away by narrating the following:

I chose green for my name because when stuff grows, it has a stem and I am growing in love with God

The blue background looked like water and fish are in the water.  And, it looks like the bright sky.

I chose the fish because of the miracle that God made through his son Jesus when he broke the bread and multiplied the fish for so many people.
I chose the chalice to be gold because, in our church, the chalice is gold.  I put rubies, sapphires and emeralds on the chalice.  They are precious and Jesus' blood and body are precious.  Plus, the jewels remind me of a king and he is the king.
The body (the host) has light coming out of it because Jesus is the light of the world.

Sometimes I end a week staring at all the things that I have not attended to and wondering where the week went.  As I do, I can get to feeling discouraged and begin to berate myself about priorities, time management, etc. despite any of he goodness that has been so obvious during the week.  Then, something as simple as looking at snapshots causes me to pause and to smile in gratitude at the experiences we are able to enjoy and the impact those experiences have upon my children's growth, understanding and development of our world and of our faith.

Likewise, words like the ones Nina shared about her First Holy Communion banner stop me in my tracks.  They testify to the fact that my kids "get it".  Despite our crazy busyness at times and despite all my personal failings, our Lord is working in their hearts and in their minds, shining glorious light and sharing unconditional love.


A banner (or my girl's thoughts about it) seemed to speak to me this week with words of affirmation and encouragement:  No matter what I do or fail to do, love and light can shine.  May each of us remain steadfast and come to know God's amazing mercy and love as we journey through the final week of Lent and head into a glorious Easter season! 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Simple Seasonal Craft: A Paper Plate Lily Pencil Toppers How-To

Spring has arrived!  Easter is on its way  This month is dedicated to St. Joseph.

No matter if you honor just one of these seasonal celebrations, or all three of them, I have a super simple craft for you!

Paper Plate Lily Pencil Toppers

(NOTE:  Some links which follow are affiliate ones.  If you click on one and make a purchase, we may receive small compensation.)

When preparing to celebrate St. Joseph's Day this past week, I ran into paper plate lily posts at All Free Crafts and Catholic Inspired.  Both methods were similar and I loved the idea.  I immediately decided that making paper plate lilies would be a fun and practical way for my children and their friends to help decorate our St. Joseph table.

I did not have chenille stems on hand, however, and so could not follow the directions at All Free Crafts completely.  And, since I wanted our flowers to stand in a vase on our St. Joseph's table, the stemless version at Catholic Inspired was not quite right for us either.  So, I did what I so often do.  I combined and tweaked the two sets of directions to fit the vision I had in mind.

The result?

Pencils as stems which could later be sharpened, making the lilies as useful as they were fun to make and pretty to look at.

Make Your Own Paper Plate Lily Pencil Toppers

To make our version of Paper Plate Lily Pencil Toppers, you'll need:

  • paper plates
  • scissors
  • yellow colored pencils, crayons, pencils or, our favorite, Color Sticks
  • some yellow paper or cardstock
  • some green paper of cardstock
  • pencils
  • tape

Cut a paper plate in half.

Color a portion of the inner circle yellow.

Fold the half of plate in half and cut a petal fringe.  (You can draw the petal shapes first if you like.)

Cut a small strip of yellow paper of cardstock and cut a fringe onto it.  Tape it to the yellow hald-circle on the paper plate, leaving the fringe free.

Cut four long, small triangular "leaves" from green paper or cardstock.

Roll the paper paper plate around the pencil in a cone shape to make a lily.  Tape it.

(If you want to use the pencils later, make sure to do so on the eraser side, not on the lead side as one of our crafters accidentally did!)

Tape each of the leaves around the pencil, one at a time.

Then, use another pencil to roll the outside of the paper plate petals downward.

And - viola! - you have a pretty, practical craft to enjoy this season!

Enjoy a Story with Your Craft


Had I thought ahead, when making our lilies, I might have grabbed our copy of The Parable of the Lily.  It would make a perfect story to read aloud as children craft their pencil toppers!

If you make Paper Plate Lily Pencil Toppers, I'd love to see a picture.  Post a link to it in the comments or share it on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page, please.  Enjoy crafting!

Hip Homeschool Moms

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Latest Engaging Addition to Our Eclectic Math Approach {A GPA LEARN Review}

Our family's approach to math consists of an eclectic mix of including an array of real-life math experiences, exploring many hands-on activities and games, reading plenty of math-based literature, taking occasional forays into traditional math curriculum, and enjoying periodic online fun.  GPALOVEMATH by GPA LEARN has become the latest addition to our math approach.  It provides an engaging way for kids to learn math online through lessons and games.

Critical Thinking Company Review

GPALOVEMATH is an award-winning K-5 curriculum which comes as online streaming software and offers far more than just typical online math learning.  In fact, it offers:

An Array of Math Activities 

When families register, they get access to over 150 lessons and over 10,00 practice problems at levels K-5.  

Once logged into, students are instructed by animated online learning coaches and may opt to for instruction, practice or quizzes withing three pathways at their grade levels. 


Rewards to Motivate Kids

As children complete lessons, they are awarded points, which can be redeemed for parent-selected rewards, as well as - much to my surprise and my children's delight - gift cards to places like Target and Toys R Us.

Mastery in Months

Used 4-5 times a week, GPALOVEMATH can help children master a grade level's worth of math in about 10 months.  Used less frequently, the program supplements math concepts well and keeps children engaged in learning.  

Regular Parent Notifications

Parents are kept abreast of children's progress through regular automated emails which come after children complete lessons, when they "nudge" you to approve rewards and when they send a message to you through the "engage" tab.

Parents also receive periodic tips about how to reinforce concepts taught through their children's lessons and are always offered an option to audit any lesson a child does.

Private Messaging

Interaction between parents and children is encouraged through an "engage" tab within the program interface which brings you to a private messaging system.

This system can be used to ask and answer math questions, of course.  It can also be used to spread love!

Audio Narration

Further, the program offers both written text and robotic-like narration within its lessons, so children who are not strong readers are not held back.

The program can be used with your MS Window or Apple MAC computer, ab Apple iPad, or Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (10”). Google Chrome is the recommended for it, but Apple Safari 6 & 7, MS IE11 and FireFox also work.  (We typically used Firefox.)

Our Experience

Once we signed up for GPALOVEMATH, I had no problem following the onscreen registration and login process and placing each of my children (ages 4, 7 and 9) at appropriate levels within the K-5 range.
Then, I sat with each child, helping each to log on and move through a lesson.

Once it was clear that the kids knew how to use GPALOVEMATH on their own, I set them free to do so as they wished during screentime learning periods.

Sometimes, they actually did their lessons.  At other times, they got excited by the "engage" and "motivate" tabs and, instead, wrote me private messages or browsed what sort of rewards they could get.

Thankfully, seeing how many points they had earned and how many they needed for specific rewards brought them back to actually doing lessons!

Or, perhaps I should say, taking quizzes. 

When we began the program, I decided to set it to start "easy" for each child.  I did this for two reasons:

1.  I did not want the program to be "too hard" for my children at first, and, thus, to become something they disliked.

2.  I was curious to see what "holes" GPALOVEMATH might reveal in my children's learning as compared to children who are more traditionally "schooled".  (Since we use an eclectic math approach that touches on skills based on my children's interests and patches those skills together like a quilt, I am well aware that their a typical "grade level" topics that we have not explored yet and thought the linear trajectory of GPALOVEMATH would help me see which skills I might gently encourage further practice with during our everyday life and learning.

Setting the program to "easy" levels for my children worked well.  They did not find the too difficult and were, thus, not dissuaded from using it, but, rather, often asked for more screentime to move further along on their learning and review paths.  Further, I realized some traditional math vocabulary and concepts that could be bolstered in the kids' overall math learning.

However, the "easy" settings also created a situation that might not behoove us as the kids continue on with the program.  In short, they found the "Instruction" and "Practice" portions of the lessons a bit slow and often went straight for the quizzes, hoping to become "Rockstars" and, thus, to earn points for rewards!
Sometimes, going straight to the quizzes resulted in the kids getting less than "rockstar" status.  When this happened, I simply suggested that they go back to the related lesson and then repeat the quiz.  Sometimes, they did so on their own.  At other times, my younger children asked me or big brother to sit with them to do the lessons and practice sessions before re-taking the quizzes on their own, since the animated learning coach voices, although helpful, sometimes seemed to make lessons go too slow and get a bit grating with the robotic cadence of the voices and, therefore, they preferred a live, in-person voice to read the lesson material to them.

So far, we've been using the program for about six weeks and the children are still enjoying it, asking for it and sharpening their math skills. 
That makes GPAMATHLOVE a win in our home and a worthwhile addition to our eclectic math approach!

Whether your children learn math in a traditional trajectory, or in a more eclectic style as mine do, GPAMATHLOVE could be a "right fit" for them. 
Although meant as a supplementary math program, there is enough "meat" to it that it could serve as an actual core curriculum in my opinion. It also makes for a fun, engaging program for extra math practice for any child -- homeschooled or traditionally schooled.

Learn More

Try GPALOVEMATH FREE for 30 days!

Or, purchase it using a discount code. 

GPALOVEMATH is available now for a special introductory price of $129 per year per child with the Promo Code GPAINTRO15 or $12.99 per month per child.

See what other Schoolhouse Review Crew families thought of GPALOVEMATH.
GPA Learn Review
Find GPA LEARN online on:
What math resources have you been finding helpful?  Might GPA LEARN round out your math approach, too?  
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

And Then There is This...


My children.  

Snuggled together.

Sleeping in a riot of mismatched linens.  

Their bodies laced together in close comfort.

Their breath steady and peaceful.

They did not go to sleep like this.

No.  They went to sleep in separate spaces, but as the night wore on, they found their ways to one another.

To the warmth and peacefulness of resting together in love.

So precious.

So beautiful.

So much of a reminder to me:

I, too, can find restfulness in Love.

Warmth, peace and comfort await me always.

Like my children find their ways to one another, so I find my way to You, O Lord.

Knowing You are there.

I seek and, then, become still, snuggling into



Thank you.

Testing a Boy who Does Not Take Tests {A Math Analogies Review}

Are you interested in making your children better problem solvers?

I am.  That is why I was happy to be offered a chance to review Math Analogies Level 1 by The Critical Thinking Co.  For, even though my husband and I are not proponents of test-taking (which is what I previously related The Critical Thinking Co. name to), we value analytical skills, reasoning and problem-solving skills highly, and, as we looked over what
Math Analogies Level 1 promised, we felt the product would encourage such skills.

We were not wrong.

What is The Critical Thinking Co.?

Critical Thinking Company Review

The Critical Thinking Co. has been around as a family-owned business since the 1950's and is well-known as a trusted producer of materials that help children to improve critical thinking skills.  

They currently offer over 150 national award-winning books and software products in the areas of math, reading, science, social studies and writing.  These products aim to develop students' critical thinking skills for success in life and, as might be expected, higher test scores.

What is Math Analogies Level 1?

Critical Thinking Company Review

Among The Critical Thinking Co.'s software download products is Math Analogies Level 1, a product our oldest son just finished using.

This product currently sells for $6.99 and requires
a Windows 8/7/Vista operating system, 1 GHz or faster CPU, and 512MB of RAM to work.  (It will not work on Mac OS X, but an iPad version is available.)

In a nutshell, the program is a straightforward one that presents 152 analogies for students in grades 2-3 to master over four attempts.  These problems center on:

  • Algebra
  • Data Analysis and Probability
  • Geometry
  • Measurement
  • Numbers and Operations

Our Experience

When we first received a link to download
Math Analogies Level 1, we easily downloaded the program onto our family laptop, listed our son as a user and helped him understand what an analogy is by clicking on the obvious words, "How to Solve and Analogy" that came up on the program screen and can be found in a free online demo.

Once our boy, who had hitherto never seen an analogy, understood what an analogy is and how to approach solving one, we simply let him go to town with the program at his own pace.

One hundred and fifty-two problems proved a lot for our son to focus on right away, however, so he did not complete his first attempt at all the analogies in one sitting.  Rather, after about 10 minutes, he simply moved onto off-screen pursuits.

I was not sure how the program would handle being abandoned part way through a series of problems like that and was happy to discover that the next time our son logged on, the program simply picked up where her had left off.  In fact, it did the same for all four attempts our son made at mastering the 152 problems over the course of several sittings.  That was a handy feature!

It was also helpful for me to simply observe my son at work during his Math Analogy Level 1 times.  

As I watched my son approach the analogies, and sometimes helped him by offering guiding questions when he asked me to do so, I noticed both strengths and weaknesses in his current math knowledge as well as in his problem solving skills.  I also marveled at the way his mind worked to solve problems which included skills and topics we have never formally gone over.  

Indeed, Math Analogies 1 proved an interesting "test" of knowledge and skills for a child that rarely takes any sort of formal evaluation.  Better still, it did not feel like a test to him, but rather a challenge!

Within the six week or so review period, over the course of several 10-20 minute sessions and four overall attempts, our son met the challenge of mastering all 152 problems with 100% accuracy.

Now, I can erase him as a user and, when my daughter is ready, set her to challenge.  For,
since Math Analogies Level 1 is a downloadable program, once you purchase it, you own it forever. That means that after completing four attempts at mastering the program's 152 problems, you can use it again with the same child or with other children.  For me, with three children, that is a bonus!

Final Thoughts 

Would we recommend Math Analogies Level 1? 
You bet we would.

Granted, when I asked my son for a quote about Math Analogies Level 1 for this review, he said, "It was not horrible and it was not great.  I learned a little."  However, I know his experience was better than his words imply.   My proof?  This:

That is my boy cheering just after he mastered the last of the 152 analogies presented in the program on his fourth attempt to do so.

It was so fun to see his victory call!

It was also telling to see which problems challenged my boy the most.  In fact, I found myself using the "click to review" to click through all the problems he attempted and to note which ones he initially answered incorrectly.  Doing so illuminated what topics we might include in some upcoming focus lessons and hands-on activities soon.

I did, admittedly, wish I could just pull up a report of the missed problems instead of having to click through all 152 to find them.  I also wished that the program would present similar, but not exactly the same problems, during subsequent attempts.  Further, I would like to be able to use the program concurrently with more than one user, instead of having to wait until one user completes the cycle of 152 problems before beginning a second user on it.

These wishes aside, I found that Math Analogies Level 1 is an effective tool for practicing problem solving skills and encouraging higher order mathematical thinking.  It is also an excellent value for families with multiple children.  For, even though it cannot be used concurrently by more than one user, it can be used by multiple users in succession, giving families more bang for the buck.

The program is not flashy, fancy or filled with handy user options, but it is what it purports to be: an engaging
program that helps students break problems down into their component parts in order to come up with solutions.
Learn More

Want to see if Math Analogies Level 1 is right for your child?  Try a FREE DEMO.

Interested in other products?  Read what 100 Schoolhouse Crew Review families thought about The Critical Thinking Co. products.  Each family reviewed one of these products:

Critical Thinking Company Review

Want to connect with The Critical Thinking Co.?  Find them online at:

How have you even empowering your children with critical thinking and problem solving skills lately?  
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